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The Magic of Special Effects

magic special effects

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Since the invention of motion pictures, the struggle to suspend reality and create the fantastic has been a special effects artist’s primary task. From basic in-camera and editing tricks at the turn of the twentieth century to increasingly sophisticated works in the second half of the century, special effects evolved from simple to extremely complex.

In modern filmmaking, special effects continue to play a crucial role in allowing filmmakers to suspend reality and create unique experiences. In this section, we’ll have a look at how special effects are used on set and some of the ways that you can quickly and easily benefit from incorporating special effects in your film.

Special Effects Team

The special effects team is a department unto itself. It is responsible for the creation and execution of all on-set special effects. This includes everything from explosions and gunfire to rain and snow.

The special effects team is responsible for the safe execution of all special effects sequences on set. This includes setting up and operating any necessary equipment, as well as prepping actors for their scenes.

The team also works closely with many other departments, including the stunt coordinator, to ensure that all stunts are safely executed and that the actors are properly protected.

The Special Effects Supervisor

The Special Effects Supervisor is the person in charge of the special effects crew. They are responsible for the safety of the cast and crew and ensuring that all the special effects are executed properly. The Special Effects Supervisor works closely with the director to ensure that the effects are in keeping with the vision for the film.

The Special Effects Coordinator

The Special Effects coordinator is responsible for organizing and scheduling the work of the special effects crew. They also keep track of all the equipment and supplies needed for the special effects.

The Special Effects Technician

The Special Effects technician is responsible for setting up and operating the equipment used to create the special effects. This may include everything from small hand-held devices to large-scale mechanical rigs.

Special Effects Artists

Special Effects artists are responsible for creating the illusions that are needed to make the special effects work. This may involve anything from painting backdrops to building models.

The team also includes pyrotechnicians, mechanical effects artists, and other technicians.

Special Effects Equipment

The special effects team uses a variety of equipment to create the desired effect. This can range from simple items like wind machines (i.e., large industrial fans) and rain towers to more complex pieces like mechanical rigs and pyrotechnic devices.

Depending on the needs of the production, the special effects team will bring in whatever is necessary to get the job done.

Special Effects Techniques

There are a variety of special effects techniques that the team may use to create the desired effect. These can range from simple in-camera tricks to more complex mechanical or pyrotechnic effects.

Some common special effects techniques include:

  • Weather effects (rain, snow, wind, etc.)
  • Pyrotechnics
  • Flying rigs
  • Stop motion animation
  • Puppetry

Each of these techniques has its own set of benefits and drawbacks. The team will use whatever is necessary to create the desired effect.

Special Effects working with VFX

Both special effects and VFX benefit from a collaborative environment. On an extremely low-budget film, you might have just one “FX” department that covers both special and visual effects. On a larger budget, you’ll have both a Special effects Supervisor and a Visual Effects Supervisor. In both situations, there’s no reason for the two departments not to work together for the benefit of the film.

Here are just a few of the ways that the departments can support one another:

VFX Elements

The special effects team can provide various elements for the VFX team to capture on camera. These elements can be simple elements, such as snow, rain, or dust, or they can be more complex elements, such as blood squibs, explosions, and other pyrotechnics.

Chroma Key

Screenshot of the Quixel Bridge interface

Both departments can work with the cinematographer to capture the best possible green/blue screen footage. This footage can then be used by the VFX team to create any number of effects.

Physical Effects

The special effects team can create various physical effects that can be captured on camera. These effects can be anything from mechanical rigs to pyrotechnic devices. The VFX team can provide the work in post-production to digitally remove (paint out) the rigging and unwanted equipment.


The special effects team can provide interactive references for the actors and crew to react to during photography. This can be things such as Monster Sticks which will be replaced with CGI later or rigging which will be removed completely.

This is just a small sampling of the ways that the two departments can work together. By collaborating, both departments can create some truly amazing effects.

Wrapping Up

Special effects play a crucial role in modern filmmaking. They are responsible for the safe execution of all special effects sequences and work closely with many other departments to ensure that the film is executed properly.

Next up we’ll take a look at some of the special effects that any filmmaker can employ safely.

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